Indiana University Press

Negotiations with the Snow


Today there was barely any light,And the little that managed to grace the streetWas slowly traveling, grey, made greyerBy the heavily falling snow. It came inWhen you opened the door, like it ownedThe apartment. It greedily swallowedThe mailman’s cap, like a mother coveringHer son’s head with kisses. Once in a whileThe neighbor on the other side of the streetWould appear in the window, brandishingA smile, sending across a faint wave.The snow had somehow made her face older,So that it appeared like she had acquiredWrinkles in a very succinct time.You watched snowflakes turn and turn, like wood in a lathe.When the cold became way below the reachOf the boiler, you opened the ovenTo warm the house until the air was hard to breathe,So hot it was impossible to sleep.


The neighbor has covered the flowerbedWith tarpaulin the brightest shade of blue,Tucking the plastic skin into the earth.High up in the trees, like patches of hairOn an old woman’s head, squirrels languishedIn their dens, in their beds of nuts and acorns.If you listened hard in the quiet at nightYou would hear them. Halfway through the hearingEmails from undergrad students poured in—Excuses from attending classes this week,Requests for office hours, one requestFor more time to turn in their assignments,Visages of American entitlement.As usual you recoiled into yourself,Repulsed at the tone of the requests.Or rather amused by the certainties— [End Page 197] In varied tones of yeses you repliedEach one of them, like a mother who knowsThat despite the condition she wouldn’tDeny her newborn breastmilk when it cried.


For the brief four hours of sunlightPeople pour into the streets like creamInto a half-filled mug of coffee.Until unsurprisingly it is evening.Snow has made miles of buildings one landscapeEven in the night you can see the snowLeaking with rhapsodic light, the white imprintOn the black tarmac, the houses crowningFrom the womb of the melting snow, the one manPlying his way through the six inches of snowOn the sidewalk, in his winter boots—You follow the man’s tracks with your eyesUntil he negotiates a bend intoThe adjoining street. Once in a whileA stray dog passes by, rifles its snoutsThrough the snow, emerges with its jawsLike it was dipped in a bowl of milk.It barks, steam vaporing from its mouth.It stops and looks around, expecting someoneTo open their door and welcome it inside.Once in a while its prayers are answered. [End Page 198]


I wrote my lesson note under candlelight.The power did not come on; mosquitoes,in twos, trailed where I sat, keeping me awake.The text was fighting against comprehension,as if to be understood meant to be trappedin the reader’s mind, being evidentlyan adult’s topic: the justificationof murder in a book as unyieldingas Beloved, not the murder of a manpast his prime, but the murder of a babyby her own mother. Not a painless murderbut one with a knife, blood running downthe shaky palms of the mother like oil.

How could I simplify the scene, bring it downto the grasp of whimsical teenagers,that the mother was a woman with conscience,without making it seem like the motherwas acting on a devilish impulse?The candlelight purred. I wrote and cancelledand then went back to write the same words.

There was only one way to explain it.I had watched an interview betweenthe author, now an aging womanand another writer, a young man,trying to come to terms with the murder,which in essence had happened, but notas it had happened in real life but in the book.

I could have circumvented the topicbut I already knew the answers.The author had said it was a caseof ownership: the mother declaringthat the baby was hers to do with what she liked,which in that instance, was to kill rather thanleaving it in the hands of slave masters.An ambient silence followed as ifthe audience was finding it hard to breathe,to see the rationale in the author’s reply.The silence seemed like it would never endso that even years after the interview,the same silence was enveloping me. [End Page 199]

Okwudili Nebeolisa

Okwudili Nebeolisa is a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop where he is a Provost Fellow and won the Prairie Lights John Leggett’s Prize for Fiction. He currently teaches creative writing at the University of Iowa. His poems have appeared in The Sewanee Review, Threepenny Review, and Image Journal, and have been nominated for a Pushcart by Beloit Poetry Journal, The Cincinnati Review, and Salamander Magazine. His nonfiction has appeared in Catapult and Commonwealth Writers. He was the first runner-up for the inaugural Granum Foundation Fellowship Prize.

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